Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) is set to launch a new $175 million hospital information system on Saturday, but people who were part of a hospital equity, diversity and inclusion committee say the system lacks key data.
The new system is called Epic. It’s supposed to improve how HHS collects, stores, and manages clinical information while improving patient safety. This is the largest investment HHS has ever made in its IT infrastructure.
“Healthcare providers will have a single, intertwined picture of the patient’s medical record, including medications, issues, allergies, lab results, imaging, previous visits, and medical history,” says the HHS. website.
It will also have a database with more than 60 million anonymized patients that will help medical professionals find patterns in patient data.
But Lyndon George, executive director of the Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Center (HARRC), says HHS has yet to integrate racial and socioeconomic data into Epic.
He said he was on the HHS President’s EDI (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) Committee and despite many committee members calling for the inclusion of this data, HHS only says it will include the data at the ‘coming.
“We want to see race, ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation, language, their time in Canada… these are the types of demographic information that would help us understand who is receiving care. and who gets what type of care,” he said. Hamilton told CBC on Monday.
“We kept hearing, ‘We’ll get to that later? and we said, ‘Why are we waiting?'”
George sent a letter to HHS President and CEO Rob MacIsaac on Monday urging the hospital network to take action.
The inclusion of demographic data is important.
Hamilton Public Health figures showed people of color accounted for 51% of COVID-19 cases although they only make up about 19% of the city’s total population.
The Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton also had data showing that the poorest inhabitants of the city and people of color had higher rates of COVID-19 than other demographic groups.
It will be months before HHS collects demographic data
Hamilton Health Sciences declined a request for an interview about the concerns, but said in a statement that “collecting race-based data is a priority.”
“Resources have been set aside to support the commitment, planning and training necessary to securely collect, use and manage this information,” read the emailed statement.
“We are committed to achieving this in the months following the launch of our new hospital information system on June 4.”
On Wednesday, HHS posted an online response from Dave McCaig, executive vice president of corporate affairs, about the concerns.
He said that while people will be able to voluntarily add race and gender-based information to their electronic medical record starting Saturday, it will be months before HHS begins collecting it.
“The size and complexity of this project has forced us to make some tough decisions about what we can do at a time. Getting this system into service is a process that will extend beyond June 4,” said McCaig said.
“Our first priority is to make sure everything works as planned.”
Diversity group members reportedly left with concerns
Ameil Joseph, an associate professor at McMaster University who studies critical race theory, said that, like George, he was on the president’s EDI committee.
Joseph said he and others left the committee.
“I think people were leaving because they thought the task force was there to have a diverse representation of community members and employees…to give advice to the president…and then HHS often decided to do its own thing rather than relying on that feedback,” Joseph said.
He said that while Epic seems more than capable of including this data at Saturday’s launch, it won’t be included because HHS didn’t do the work sooner.
“I’m disappointed but it’s not a new type of disappointment.”
In consultation with medical experts, we have identified 5 key ways in which @HamHealthSci must take steps to implement anti-racism collection efforts into their new Epic system.#EpicEquityNow pic.twitter.com/Dfsd5EhRm7
Cole Gately, founding chair of Hamilton’s Trans Health Coalition, said more needed to be done to address concerns.
“Members of the trans, non-binary, and gender-diverse community are frequently named dead (a term for using your incorrect name) and misinterpreted in healthcare interactions. The use of names and pronouns correct is an essential part of safe and equitable health care,” he said. in a HARRC press release.
“We strongly encourage HHS to use the features available in their new EHR (electronic health records) to create the system-level change required to address this persistent issue.”
HARRC offered five recommendations to HHS, including meaningful community engagement on how to collect and use the data.
George said he wanted to be optimistic about the situation.